Busy and exciting times here. I am pleased and honoured to announce that I have been accepted to speak at the 2013 Ancestral Health Symposium in Atlanta in August this year. I will be making a 20-minute presentation on the topic of high-intensity training and autonomic nervous system fatigue, using an evidence-based approach to help guide people toward the correct ‘dose’ of such types of training. I will also be a panellist alongside two people for whom I hold a great deal of respect – Robb Wolf and Mark Sisson, discussing the topic of ketogenic diets for athletes. So a bit of homework required before then! I am also really looking forward to presenting our Whole9 South Pacific workshops in Melbourne and Christchurch. The Christchurch date takes me home and will be followed by a week-long road trip around the upper South Island and a short hop over to Wellington. I can’t wait!
“Kiwi’s living longer than before” reads the headline of a media report outlining data published for countries around the world as part of the Global Burden of Disease (GBD) Study 2010. This sounds like a good news story at face value – we can sit back and rejoice in the marvels of modern medicine, our tests, our screening, our drugs, and our modern society where we have clean water, sanitation, and influenza surveillance. But further into the report we are forced to face some immutable facts – we are living longer with a greater burden of disease and disability, and for many of us (maybe most when you look at our diabetes stats), the last decade of our lives (as a minimum) will see a marked deterioration in the QUALITY of our lives.
The data show that, in the last 20 years, average life expectancy in New Zealand has increased from 75 years to 80 years. This would sound like a good thing if it weren’t for the fact that at the same time, the average New Zealander could expect to spend almost 11 years of their life suffering from disability or disease. So playing the averages, from age 69 to age 80, you will have the burden of disability; progressively losing your independence, freedom of movement, and ability to engage in enjoyable activities, you will likely need to spend at least some of that time in managed care (read as: this will cost you large amounts of money). You will be pumped with increasing amounts of pharmaceutical agents in an attempt to slow your rate of death, seemingly one organ at a time – pancreas, heart, kidneys, and eventually, your brain.
The scariest part of that report, aside from the bit about living longer in poorer health, is the astonishing rise of Alzheimer’s disease in the space of two decades. From 1990 to 2010, death from Alzheimer’s disease rose a staggering 346 per cent. Cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease, and lung cancer remain our biggest killers, undoubtedly with a large number of these still underpinned by smoking (historically) and from the dietary and lifestyle shifts of the last 30-40 years. Alzheimer’s disease as leapt right on up there into the top 5.
We all tend to laugh and joke about early-onset Alzheimer’s disease when we forget where we left the car keys, but death-by-Alzheimer’s disease is no laughing matter. Here is a summary of Alzheimer’s disease “highlights” from Wikipedia;
Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is the most common form of dementia. There is no cure for the disease, which worsens as it progresses, and eventually leads to death. Most often, AD is diagnosed in people over 65 years of age, although the less-prevalent early-onset Alzheimer’s can occur much earlier.
Early symptoms are often mistakenly thought to be ‘age-related’ concerns, or manifestations of stress. In the early stages, the most common symptom is difficulty in remembering recent events. As the disease advances, symptoms can include confusion, irritability and aggression, mood swings, trouble with language, and long-term memory loss. As the sufferer declines they often withdraw from family and society. Gradually, bodily functions are lost, ultimately leading to death.
Fewer than three per cent of individuals live more than fourteen years after diagnosis.
The first symptoms are often mistakenly attributed to ageing or stress. The most noticeable deficit is memory loss, which shows up as difficulty in remembering recently learned facts and inability to acquire new information.
Subtle problems with the executive functions of attentiveness, planning, flexibility, and abstract thinking, or impairments in semantic memory (memory of meanings, and concept relationships) can also be symptomatic of the early stages of AD. Apathy can be observed at this stage, and remains the most persistent neuropsychiatric symptom throughout the course of the disease. In people with AD the increasing impairment of learning and memory eventually leads to a definitive diagnosis. In a small portion of them, difficulties with language, executive functions, perception, or execution of movements are more prominent than memory problems.
Progressive deterioration eventually hinders independence, with subjects being unable to perform most common activities of daily living. Speech difficulties become evident due to an inability to recall vocabulary, which leads to frequent incorrect word substitutions. Reading and writing skills are also progressively lost. Complex motor sequences become less coordinated as time passes and AD progresses, so the risk of falling increases. During this phase, memory problems worsen, and the person may fail to recognise close relatives. Long-term memory, which was previously intact, becomes impaired.
Death by Alzheimer’s disease is usually caused by secondary infections that are common in patients with this level of incapacitation. As the disease progresses, patients lose the ability to coordinate basic motor skills such as swallowing, walking, or controlling bladder and bowel. Difficulty swallowing can cause food to be inhaled, which can result in pneumonia. Inability to walk can lead to bedsores. Incontinence can result in bladder infections. These infections are incredibly difficult to treat because Alzheimer’s patients are unable to understand and participate in their own treatment.
This is a horrible way to go.
Whilst we are still coming to grips with understanding how Alzheimer’s disease is initiated and how it advances, there is at least some early evidence suggesting a link between diet and the development of Alzheimer’s disease, most notably diets high in processed food. One recent study found that those who load up their plates with carbohydrates have four times the risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease, whilst those eating more proteins and fats were afforded a degree of protection against mild cognitive impairment – a potential precursor state to Alzheimer’s disease.
It should be fairly easy to identify which foods fall into the category of highly-processed. These are any foods produced by cereal manufacturers, soft drink companies, bread makers and the like. These are the very same foods advertised to us nightly by “dietitian’s-for-hire”, those produced by religion-based cereal companies who don’t want you eating meat, sold in supermarkets who continually fight against any move to regulate the production and sale of these items, where you can also purchase litre upon litre of sugar-laden drinks, produced by companies who are actively involved in publishing deceptive research to confuse the public.
This chain is protected by successive governments who are more concerned with propping these companies up because they create jobs (as well as sickness), and in short-term political cycles, jobs trump health. And the whole lot is largely looked upon indifferently by a general public full of unique snowflakes offering up a myriad of excuses as to why they can continue to eat their bread, pasta, rice crackers, cereals, and drink their lolly-water; people who are full of optimism bias; Alzheimer’s disease won’t happen to them. Besides, this new report has given them an extra 5 years to play with… no rush to make any changes then, eh?
Extra for experts
Researchers analysed blood test results from more than 3300 Kiwis over the age of 15 and found seven per cent had diabetes and almost 20 per cent showed early signs of developing the disease, a condition known as pre-diabetes.
Researcher Professor Jim Mann, told Radio New Zealand [MP3] the numbers came as a shock. “Never did I imagine, nor did any of my colleagues imagine, that there were as many as we found.”
The 71-year-old Christchurch retiree has lived with type two diabetes for almost 30 years.
“I wasn’t overweight by much and I ate a normal diet, only getting takeaways about once a year,” he said.
“Too many people have said it’s only fat people who get this, but it’s not that at all.”
Read the three Stuff.co.nz articles I have linked in this post and tell me again I was being harsh by calling out a dietitian for using her ‘authority’ to peddle junk food to the nation.